was originally published in Jim Baen's Universe, April 2008.
February is always cold, even in Texas.
I cupped my hands around my cigar to get a little extra warmth.
What was it the man said?
Oh, yeah. "What this country needs is a good five cent cigar."
You were right, Vice President Marshall--wherever you are. Dixie Maids cost five cents--but they sure weren't any good.
Probably tasted like what Sergeant Lucy was dropping beneath the post oak tree.
But I couldn't afford anything better--back then.
Sgt. Lucy's badge on her harness glinted in the moonlight. Deputy Joe was in his pickup having a drink.
The parking lot of the abandoned SSC campus was empty except for four vehicles. I looked across the lot towards the darkened Magnet Test Lab.
I remembered the skit we did at the annual Waxahachie Lions Club musical back in 1990. Brad Vavra, who was the manager of the Accelerator String Test Lab, had put on a blond wig (he looked uncannily like Judge Pennoyer), a blue dress, and waving a magic wand as the DOE Fairy, warbled:
"Superconducting Super Collider...
"Smash up them protons and waddya got?
"Crank up those protons, stare at those neutrons,
"Dig a big hole and light it all up!
I was part of the chorus--a very ugly chorus! I chuckled at the happy memory.
I took a last drag from the lousy cigar and flipped the butt towards the post oak. It bounced off in a shower of sparks. In a few months, Monica Lewinsky would almost—almost--put me off cigars.
Sgt. Lucy nudged my hand and looked towards the ASST lab, where a lone window was lit. We scooted back to the building.
Deputy Joe came up right behind in his rush to get out of the cold and grabbed the door before it slammed behind us. Sgt. Lucy had to tuck her tail to keep it from getting caught.
Doc Melancon squinted as he looked at the super-cooled magnet control console.
Brad Vavra was at the main power controls. He looked at Doc.
"Glad y'all made it back. We're about ready to power this thing up," said Brad.
I walked over to where the string test tunnel started, and leaned up against the wall nonchalantly.
"I'm ready. Let's start your little illegal experiment."
I winked at Deputy Joe. He gave a little redneck snicker. He was quite schnockered.
Doc gave Brad a look. Brad nodded and threw a few switches.
I looked down the tunnel. The target was 5,000 feet away, so I really didn't expect to see anything--but I did.
A bright blue glowing wave roiled like the apocalypse at us back up the injection tunnel.
I just had time to blurt "Oh, sh...!!" before it hit us and everything went black.
Even in Texas, which has towns with names such as Cut 'n Shoot, Dime Box and North Zulch, Waxahachie is one of the strangest.
The first settlers asked the Indians what they called the place, and were told—truthfully--'Waxahachie'.
None of the Indians told them it means "Place where the buffalo poops."
It was quite accurate. The stream the settlers named Buffalo Creek runs through one of the last forests before the great western prairie begins. The shaggy beasts would wonder in from the grassland, drink at the stream, crap, and then snooze under the tall oak trees.
It's the county seat of Ellis County, just south of Dallas. I started working as editor at the *Ellis County Chronicle* in 1986, just before the feds picked the Texas site for the Superconducting Super Collider project.
The Department of Energy would build a 54-mile circular underground tunnel to house the world's largest particle beam accelerator.
Such a massive project meant billions of dollars in construction and thousands of new jobs. It was six years later--after the DOE had built the magnet lab, dug five miles of the underground accelerator ring, and spent five billion dollars--when the funding was yanked from the budget by Congress.
When George H.W. Bush was president, the funding was secure, but it went poof in the first budget under President Clinton.
The Democrat from across the border in Arkansas apparently didn't care if a pet project of his Republican rival from Texas got shit-canned.
I had a field day on the editorial page.
"The Congressmen who did this are lower than pond scum," I wrote. The *New York Times* quoted that. I was interviewed on NBC Nightly News as an example of "local opinion".
Senator Gramm stole my line about the project cancellation being "the technological equivalent of Pearl Harbor" in his speech the next day.
Didn't make a damn bit of difference. The Super Collider was dead.
Almost 2,000 scientists lost their jobs; most moved away.
Three years later Doc Melancon walked into my office.
He said he wanted to talk to me in private and offered to take me out to lunch.
A good editor never turns down a free meal.
I sawed away at my chicken fried steak as he explained what he was up to. He wanted to crank up the string test lab for one last little experiment. He had devised a special target for the proton particle beam. He thought he could use it to create a rift in the fourth dimension.
He wanted to invent time travel.
It was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. I assumed he was a harmless crank.
Brad Vavra was still around--he'd quit his DOE job in disgust over the project cancellation and was selling real estate--so I gave Doc his number.
Melancon promised that if anything came of his plans, "I'd be the first to know."
You can imagine how surprised I was two months later to see Doc stroll into my office. After shutting the door, he explained that he'd hooked up with Brad and together they'd made a deal with the caretakers of the lab (which involved a considerable amount of money being passed under the table) to turn on the power and get one shot with the proton beam.
True to his word, he wanted me to be there to record the occasion for posterity.
He explained to me how it all worked. It had something to do with excited neutrons and high resonance electron shells--I think. He could have been talking about hominy grits for all I really understood.
When he came up for air, I pointed out that any unusual activity at the lab site was sure to attract the attention of adjacent ranch owners, who'd call the Sheriff's Department.
That's how we came up with the idea of getting someone from the Sheriff's Department involved, someone who could block any inquiries with a fake cover story. That how Deputy Joe Winters got in on the deal.
The DOE was planning to auction off the cryogenic magnet modules and the sophisticated equipment that summer, before the land reverted back to the county. Our cover story was that the folks from the auction company were conducting an inventory.
Deputy Joe happened to be Sgt. Lucy's handler--she was the county's drug dog--and whenever he was on duty she went with him. Which explains why she was with us that night.
When the black Lab had started scratching at the door of the string test lab (we'd made a few lab jokes that night, believe me), I suggested to Joe she could come with me as I took a smoke break. I knew Joe probably wanted to go to his pickup and sneak a drink. That's how Luce and I had that quiet moment under the post oak before, well, everything changed.
I saw when I came to and as my vision cleared that we all seemed to be in the same relation to each other as when the beam was turned on--but everything else was gone.
No building. No parking lot. No SSC. We were all sprawled around in the tall grass.
Doc put his hands on his knees and stood up. He started running his fingers through his silver hair.
Sgt. Lucy whined as she rolled over and stood up. She looked off across the field.
I looked in the same direction--and saw the post oak tree.
"Doc, look!" I pointed. "The tree that was in front of the parking lot--it's still there!"
Brad and Deputy Joe looked too. The gnarled tree had an unmistakable shape, and you could see them stiffen as they recognized it.
We all went over. Doc walked slowly around the tree.
"The tree sure looks the same," he said almost to himself. "In fact, most of the landscape looks the same."
Deputy Joe was quickly sobering up. "Yeah, well, where did the lab and the cars and the parking lot and the power lines and every-damn-thing-else go then?" he rattled off as quickly as possible for someone with a thick drawl.
There was a full moon that night, and the top of Doc's hair gleamed as he walked around the tree.
"I don't know," he said rather softly.
Sgt. Lucy sniffed the ground. I looked and noticed there was no sign of either her turd or the cigar butt I had tossed away just minutes earlier.
Brad pointed in the distance.
"The road's still there."
Sure enough, you could clearly see the fence line alongside the road to Waxahachie. Without another word we all started in that direction.
We found a simple barbed wire fence at the edge of the field. Brad leaned over the gate before unlatching it.
"What happened to the pavement? The road's dirt."
We went through the gate and latched it back up. We started walking towards Waxahachie--the four of us at a brisk walk and Sgt. Lucy at a bouncy trot.
No one said a word. Back then, cell phones weren't nearly as common as they are today, and no one had one with them, anyway.
After a mile or so we saw a farmhouse in the moonlight. We knocked politely at the door. After a short while a lamp appeared in the window.
An oil lamp.
In a moment the door opened. We saw the lamp was in the hand of a very old man with a long and pointed beard. He had a rather ferocious shotgun tucked under his arm
"What y'all want at this ungodly hour?"
Doc spoke up. "We broke down. We hoped you could give us a ride into town."
"Not at this time of night but you're welcome to bed down in the barn until sunrise," he said as he waved us in with the lamp. "Then we can ride in."
The old man set the lamp on a small table by the door and lit a pair of candles on the fireplace mantel.
He introduced himself as Malcolm Bratcher, adding that he was a widower and lived alone.
He nodded to us as he left to get some bedrolls.
The room looked about a hundred years behind the times. But nothing looked old.
Just very old-fashioned.
After a while Doc, Joe and I noticed Brad staring and not moving from in front of a place on the wall.
"What's that?" Doc asked.
Brad stepped aside and nodded towards a calendar.
It had the right date, all right--Feb. 26, 1997.
The picture showed a handsome middle-aged man with streaks of silver in his dark pompadour. Underneath it said, "His Excellency President Charles Hardin Holly".
I clenched my teeth as I stared at the photo. "What happened to Bill Clinton?"
That was my first thought. My second thought was, "this guy looks real familiar."
Brad looked at us, and then--I guess he could see our puzzlement--he took a No. 2 pencil from his shirt pocket and quickly drew heavy horn-rimmed glasses on the "President's" face.
As soon as he pulled back his hand, we all recognized the man.
Deputy Joe whistled. Doc put his hand to his mouth.
"Buddy Holley died 38 years ago," I said rather uselessly. "I mean, he's President of the U.S. now, instead of Bill Clinton?"
Brad pointed with the pencil to a longer and smaller line of type underneath the first. I leaned forward to read it in the dim light.
"President of the Republic of Texas."
I finished that "shit!" I had started when the Collider blew up.
Old Man Bratcher returned with a pair of lamps and led us out to the barn, which was quite sturdy and wind-proof.
There was a pair of docile horses in their stalls. Sgt. Lucy quickly curled up in a corner and dozed right off.
We snapped our bedrolls out in a nice dry warm corner of the barn that smelled of new hay. We set down our lamps and sat around them.
Joe was so nervous the ends of his long mustache were twitching. "What's happened?" he whined.
"We seem to be someplace that's very non-technological," said Doc. "Either we somehow changed the past and now are living in a different present, or we've gone sideways into a different world."
"We need to get into Waxahachie tomorrow as quietly as possible," he continued, "and collect information. Then we determine what to do next."
Sgt. Lucy whined. We looked over and saw her eyes were closed and she was wiggling her paws. Chasing rabbits in her dreams.
"Smart dog," I said. "We need to sleep, too. There's nothing to we can do for now."
I woke up to the smell of frying sausage and bacon. Old Man Bratcher was a good host. He had built a campfire under a tripod outside the barn, and had a large cast iron frying pan full of sizzling meat.
He looked more curious now as he got a good look at our clothes in the bright daylight, but he didn't say anything. Being nosy would be impolite.
After we ate and wiped our faces with a linen rag, Bratcher went behind the barn and fetched a wagon as we gathered up our bedrolls and brought them back into the house.
Bratcher's rig looked like it could have come from 100 years ago--except the wagon wheels had hard rubber tires.
The farm-to-market road that ran from the Collider site into Waxahachie didn't have many homes on it before--and there were fewer now.
The road was dirt but well packed and well maintained. There were no telephone poles or lights of any kind.
There was no Interstate 35 as we approached the city, and the county courthouse loomed especially large as we approached. We saw no automobiles--just horses and wagons like you would have seen at the turn of the 19th century.
"Please drop us on the town square," I said as we entered the outskirts. "We have business there."
Bratcher nodded but I also thought I saw him smile.
It was Saturday, and the bright sunlight took the sharp chill out of the air. Children played on the sidewalks. I noticed one girl in pigtails--she couldn't have been more than 10 or 11--rolling a hoop with a stick.
I nudged Doc in the back and pointed. "I haven't seen that in a while."
He turned and smiled. Suddenly he sat up straight. I looked at the girl again. Then it hit me, too.
She wasn't touching the hoop with the stick.
We both turned around and stared as the wagon went past her. She just smiled and waved with her free hand as she held the wand with the other.
We drove onto the town square. Bratcher pulled in front of the courthouse and tied his hitch right front of the statue of Richard Ellis, the signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence who was the county's namesake.
We thanked Bratcher and shook his hand. He said he had business in the courthouse, and walked inside at a brisk trot while we stood outside the looming red sandstone building.
The courthouse has been built in 1882, and it appeared unchanged.
"Where to now?" asked Doc. "You know the city."
"The county library," I said. "It's a quiet place to hide and I'm sure has the reference books we need."
We were just crossing the street down the block from the library when we heard a deep growl.
Sgt. Lucy had turned and taken off at full speed back towards the courthouse as... well, herself... ran back across the lawn.
A sheriff's deputy with a broken leash was running down the courthouse steps.
Our Sgt. Lucy (wearing a harness) crashed into the other Sgt. Lucy (wearing a black collar) on the opposite sidewalk. A snarling dogfight was on.
"Crap, I guess that cinches the other world theory," I said. "Let's take advantage of this distraction and get into the library, quick! Lucy's on her own."
We trotted the rest of the way down the block and into the library, which was in an old historic building.
It also seemed pretty much unchanged. I led the way towards the reference reading room after nodding to the librarian.
I pulled the "US-UZ" volume of the *Encyclopedia Britannica* off the shelf and plunked it down.
Doc and Brad also pulled some books off the shelves. Joe looked out the door nervously into the main reading room.
I read quickly and then pulled the "SC-ST" volume down, quickly followed by the "MA-MN".
It took me less than 15 minutes--according to my cheap quartz watch--to figure it out.
I had slammed the last volume shut, and was standing up when Joe came back to me.
Brad and Doc were in front of some shelves and turned with books still in hand as Judge Pennoyer walked into the room.
She was now a brunette.
I faked a smile. "Hello, Penny."
"Hello, whoever you are," she said. "I don't believe we've ever met."
I saw Old Man Bratcher walk up behind her.
"That's the posse," he said to her. "I smelled them out."
"Bratcher here is a Master Grade Wizard," she said, "and he says you're obviously up to no good."
She took a step forward and wrinkled her nose. "You don't smell so good to me, either."
Doc looked at Brad, and they both looked at me. I gave a little nod. Joe blurted:
"You're some kind of witch!?"
"Quite right," she said, gesturing to some deputies behind them. "Run them in boys. I will not allow that kind of language to be used in public."
Being a newspaper editor, I'm a fast reader, so I had plowed through the most in the short time we had in the library. I told the others what I thought was going on.
I had some time; we sat in a cell in the courthouse basement jail for a good hour before I was interrogated.
In this world the Industrial Revolution never happened.
Instead there had been a systematic uncovering and development of the laws of magic.
The histories of our two worlds seemed to be the same until about the French Revolution, and then the divergence set in.
The leading lights of the Revelation--as this world’s equivalent of our scientific Enlightenment was called--were affectionately known in history as "Father Adam and Mother Marie".
Adam Weishaupt and Marie Lavoiser.
From what I knew, Adam Weishaupt--in our world--had founded a secret society called the Illuminati over 200 years ago which had been suppressed because it was bent on the proverbial “world domination”.
Marie Lavoiser was the widow of the great French chemist who lost his head in the French Revolution.
Early in the 19th century Lavoiser met and married Weishaupt in Bavaria and they jointly discovered and codified the laws of magic.
Sort of like Marie Curie meets the Sorcerers' Apprentice.
Brad and Doc agreed with my assessment. Doc tapped his wrist.
"The laws of the physical universe have to still be the same, though," he said. "My quartz watch is still running."
"So's mine," I said. "I don't see anything to indicate science doesn't work. It just was never developed. Electricity is still just a curiosity here, like it was in Ben Franklin's day."
"The laws can't be completely the same," said Brad. "Magic doesn't work in our world."
"Maybe magic just works on as different physics that we've not uncovered," said Doc.
"Clarke's Law," I muttered.
Joe had been taking all this in. He spoke up for the first time.
"What's that mean?" he asked.
"Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer." I nodded to Doc. "I read science fiction when I was a kid."
"Any sufficiently advanced technology," Doc quoted from memory, "is indistinguishable from magic."
"Well, maybe in this case it's a different technology," said Brad.
Before we had a chance to continue, a deputy came up to the cell and waved a steel-blue wand to release the spell on the cell's lock.
He opened the door and crooked a finger at me.
"Miss Pennoyer would like a word with you."
I didn't recognize the office where he took me. I was sat down opposite Penny in a plain chair in the middle of the room.
I adopted a fake air of geniality. "Well, judge, what can I do for you today?"
"Why do you call me judge?" She crossed her arms.
"Because you are the county judge."
"I'm not. I'm the Ellis County Chief Forensic Sorceress."
"You're a saucer-ress?"
I didn't even pronounce the word correctly.
"Does that surprise you?"
"I've never met anyone who actually claimed to be a witch."
She made a face.
"Such language. Good God, where are you from?"
"Right here, in Waxahachie."
"That's impossible. I've never seen you before in my life."
I decided to play my trump. "Where I come from, magic is just a fairy tale, and science runs the world."
She looked down at me. "You're not a scientist, are you?"
Suddenly I realized how much "scientist" and Satanist" could sound alike.
"No, I'm not."
She suddenly pointed at me. "Wait, now I remember why you look familiar! Larry Anglen!"
"That's right. I'm the editor of the *Chronicle*."
She sat down in another chair. "You were the editor of the *Chronicle*. You blew into town on the sailroad from Trinity back in 1986--and died of a sinus infection a year later."
She leaned back comfortably. "The real Larry Anglen died ten years ago--so who are you?
I winced as I recalled how sick I had been in 1987. "I'm another Larry Anglen. The one from a world with antibiotics."
"Antibio.." She trailed off and knitted her brows.
"Strange, even without a Detect Truth spell I can see you believe what you are saying."
"Do you want to hear about it?"
She settled back even more. "Talk to me."
I talked for an hour nonstop. When I finally ground to a halt, I gave her a hard look right in the eyes to show her I meant it.
In my world, Judge Pennoyer was a blonde. I never could figure out why some brunettes with bright blue eyes go blonde. The blue eyes are so much more striking under dark bangs.
She stood up. "Well, I have a someone who can confirm or deny your story."
She rapped on the door. A deputy came through leading Sgt. Lucy--our Sgt. Lucy--into the room. She had a few bites on her, but seemed not much the worse for wear.
She was docile and sat down next to Penny, who leaned over and pointed to the gold lettering with her name on her harness.
"As strange as it is for you to impersonate the dead Larry Anglen, it is even stranger to impersonate a dog. Yet this dog's badge and harness all indicate she is Sgt. Lucy of the Ellis County Sheriff's Department--and we already have a Sgt. Lucy."
"Who won the dog fight?" I cracked.
"It was a draw," she snapped.
"Of course it was."
She gave me an exasperated look. "It's quite illegal to cast a Truth spell on you without your consent, and my opinion is that you're not mentally competent to give consent, anyway.
"However, our canine brethren don't have the same civil rights," she continued, ruffling Lucy's floppy ears.
She looked into Lucy's eyes as she rubbed her jowls. "Besides, who's ever heard of a dog that lied? Right, girl?"
Lucy kind of half closed her eyes as Penny stared hard into them.
"Nice girl, good girl. Let me see what you see."
The sheriff's deputy stood there with on hand on his belt and the other on his holster. I didn't move a muscle. I'd never seen a mind reading before.
Lucy just looked at her with a normal sweet Lab expression, eyes half closed.
Penny stared for maybe a minute or two, getting a look like she smelled something bad.
She finally turned away with a slight shudder. She rubbed Lucy's ears, and spoke very kindly to her--but it was obvious she didn't like what she saw.
She nodded to the deputy, who trotted Lucy off, and then sat down opposite me again.
"I've never seen such strange sights--metal horseless carriages, black asphalt ribbons running across the landscape, pictures that move on glass windows--and the smell of electricity and burnt gasoline everywhere," she said, shaking her head.
"Moreover, these things do not alarm your Lucy, they seem perfectly normal to her"
I shrugged. "Well, what better testimony could you want?"
"What's a pig up?" asked Penny.
"I have no idea. What does she think we humans are saying?"
"She loves it when Joe says, 'Let's go for a ride in the pig up.'''
"Oh, heck, a pickup. A pickup truck. It's a horseless wagon with an open bed in the back. Dogs love to stand in the back and hang over the side with their ears flapping in the breeze."
"Well, I guess not everything in your world is bad."
"How about trying to get us back there?"
She rested her chin on her fist. "You certainly don't belong here. I wonder if I can find the breach you came through."
"If anyone can find it, it's probably you, judge."
"You keep calling me judge. What kind of judge is the Penelope Pennoyer in the other Waxahachie?”
"She's the county judge. You were appointed to the job when Jim Blackburn died in 1989."
"Jim Blackburn is very much alive."
Jim Blackburn had gone into politics after retiring from an agricultural chemical supply company. He succumbed to leukemia a year after he was elected county judge.
He had been a good friend and mentor to me when I first came to town. The thought that he was alive and out there in this world...
I began to get misty-eyed.
Penny spoke up. "I'll let you go now."
Back in the cell, Doc was reading a copy of the *Chronicle* the jailer deputy had given him.
He handed me the paper when I sat down. I looked over the pages and ran my fingers over the paper. I could feel the slightly raised ink.
"Looks like a rotary letter press from before the Civil War. No photos, just line cuts."
Brad spoke up. "Speaking of the Civil War..."
"Yes, I know. Without the superior resources of the Industrial Age, the Union couldn't subdue the Confederacy and they fought to a standstill," I said.
Doc cocked his head.
"Hostilities ceased in 1868 and a Cold War set in for 20 years" said Brad, "until the Confederacy freed the slaves concurrently with Brazil in 1888."
"I suppose Texas joined the Confederacy in the war," said Doc, "and went back to being independent afterwards."
"Yep, the U.S. recognized both Texas and Confederate independence in 1888," I said.
"That explains President Buddy Holly," smiled Brad.
"Probably went into politics after his career as an entertainer tanked," said Doc.
I shrugged. "Hey, it worked for Reagan."
"Any idea what they plan to do with us?" Doc asked.
"Pennoyer said she will try to find that hole in the multiverse you punched," I said. "If she can find it, maybe she can shove us back through."
"Sounds good to me," said Doc.
"Why'd she believe your story?" asked Brad.
"She kinda did a mind meld thing with our Sgt. Lucy, knowing a dog can't lie, and when she saw what Lucy saw and knew it didn't bother her, she was convinced." I said.
"This magic stuff really works?" Brad sounded dubious.
"Look at the door. Do you see a padlock?"
Brad stood up and went over to rattle it. Our jailer across the room sat up but otherwise didn't move.
Brad withdrew his hand because it had gone numb.
"Damn!" he muttered as he rubbed it.
"There's a simple Lock spell on the door," I said.
"I know you really don't along with our Judge Pennoyer," said Doc. "You doing any better with the Witch of Waxahachie?"
"Somewhat. She's not a crooked lawyer politician like her counterpart. She's a lot more honest."
"Heck, even I could tell that, from her hair if nothing else," smiled Doc.
Just then we heard a female voice echoing off the basement walls. The sorceress walked into the jail and pointed a wand. The latch on the cell door popped loose.
"Let's go, gentlemen."
Sgt. Lucy was already in the paddy wagon. We hit the road and headed into the setting sun back towards where the Collider Lab had been.
Penny didn't lock the paddy wagon, which she drove herself. She kept the windows open so we could all talk during the drive back into the country. We had a rather "illuminating" chat along the way.
In this world, the Illuminati are the society that codified and keeps the laws of enchantment. Their world's equivalent of the secret evil group that tries to control the world from behind the scenes is the Lunar Society - which in our world was a lodge run by Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus Darwin, and which was a think tank for the Enlightenment.
Rumors of behind-the-scenes machinations by the Lunar Society continue in the magical world to this day. The contemporary vanguard of this group was called the Lunarians--an evil cabal based in New York City run by a Russian named Asimov who always depicted with a daw perched on his shoulder.
Other than recognizing the name Asimov, none of this made any sense to me.
She had earned her scroll in basic, mid-level and advanced sorcery from the Southwest Enchanted Forensics Institute 60 miles away in Trinity--which apparently is what their version of Dallas was called.
The main connection between Trinity and Waxahachie was the sailroad--much like a railroad, but driven by large sails instead of nasty coal engines. In addition to an engineer, each train carried a Weather Wiccan who could whip up a little wind if the breeze lagged.
Fifteen miles out of the city we found the field from where we started our journey the night before. It was easy to orient ourselves by the trees. We walked by the gnarled post oak whose counterpart had stood in front of the parking lot.
The sorceress raised both hands and slowly moved them in circles like she was caressing the wind.
"It's here," she said softly. "There's a tenderness--almost a wound--in the weave of the world."
She turned to Doc. "I think an advanced Protection Spell combined with an Reveal and an Unlock Spell should do it, along with, of course, a little bit of a personal esoteric enchantment."
He looked at her like she was talking about hominy grits.
As I later learned, a less skilled sorceress would have to read these spells, but she was able to recite them from memory.
As she completed the last, she began to walk forward--and we all followed.
After a few yards, there was a strong glare in my eyes. I thought it was caused by the setting sun--but then, as the glare faded, I saw the String Test Lab.
Brad whistled. Joe let loose a giant sigh of relief. Lucy whined. Doc ran forward and hollered; he met the caretaker at the door.
Penny wobbled a bit as she walked across the hard pavement. I put my hand on her shoulder.
"Do you want to check something?"
She realized what I was getting at and picked up a stick.
"Let's try a simple Remote Control spell."
She laid the stick in the palm of her hand, and then blew on it as it levitated.
She flung her hand and the stick flew away. Sgt. Lucy saw this and fetched the stick back to her.
"Good girl." She ruffled the dog's big floppy ears.
Doc was at the front door giving his spiel to the caretaker--who had been quite worried when he showed up in the morning to find the cars in the parking lot but no people and the lights on with the doors unlocked.
Not that the caretaker cared a bit about us--he was scared his little deal would be discovered.
Doc had already thought of a story. He came up with some tale about needing a part back in Dallas and then breaking down on Industrial Ave.
I don't know whether the caretaker really bought it, but he was reassured when he saw "Judge Pennoyer" outside in the parking lot.
"She's in on the deal," I stage-whispered.
The caretaker gawked.
"Yeah, she changed her hair color," I shrugged.
Doc eventually returned to us. "I have to stay here and tidy up some loose ends. Y'all can take off, I guess. We need to rest. We'll compare notes tomorrow. Otherwise, mum's the world," he said, looking especially at Deputy Joe, who shook his head.
"Nobody would believe this crazy shit, anyways," he muttered as he headed towards his pig up truck.
"Come on, Luce!"
He slapped the passenger seat as the dog hopped in.
Doc looked at Penny. "I hope you don't have problems getting back."
"I doubt it," she smiled.
Doc went back into the lab.
"If y'all excuse me, I'm going home to get a stiff, tall, cold drink," said Brad, with a wave.
I turned to Penny. "It's been quite an excursion. I guess you gotta go."
She smiled. "You saw some of my world. How about showing me some of yours?"
I gestured towards my pickup. "If you don't mind riding in an infernal horseless carriage, well... my carriage awaits."
Ten feet away, I clicked the remote door lock. The locks popped open as the truck beeped.
Penny jumped back a foot.
"Sorry," I said waving my key chain. "This is my remote control."
Penny looked around the inside of the truck and at the dashboard like it was a space capsule.
I leaned over and clicked on her seat belt. "This thing goes 70 miles per hour, so you need this."
I put the truck in gear and began to roll out of the parking lot.
"What do you usually drive, yourself? A broom?"
She gave me a really cheesy evil smile. "I don't know where you'll put that large and sharp tongue after I shrink your head."
Obviously, I wasn't going to drive into Waxahachie, so we headed up the highway into Dallas. I got off on Colorado Blvd. and took her to the park behind Methodist Central Hospital on the bluffs of the Trinity River that overlook Dallas.
She gazed across the skyline, with the 72-story Bank of America tower outlined in glowing green argon tubing, the Reunion Tower globe with its flashing lights, and Pegasus in bright red neon flight atop the old Magnolia Oil Building.
"It's amazing, and so beautiful," she said. "It also seems strangely foreboding."
"That's Dallas for you," I wisecracked.
Despite her obvious fascination, she said he was concerned the breach might be affected by the waning of the full moon, and she wanted to get back to the Collider site as soon as possible.
Back in the parking lot, she waved her hands again.
"I was right, this wound may wax and wane with the full moon that it was created with," she said. "However, I doubt it will ever completely heal."
She laid her hands by her side.
"Well, I guess I'll never see you again," I said.
She reached beneath her shawl and took out a small thick book. She began to pull out some pages. "Here's the spells for Reveal, Unlock, and Protection. Come here."
She drew me close. "Let me show you how to pronounce them, and what you must add of your own."
That was eight years ago. I still steer clear of the bad Penny and the crooked courthouse gang. Judge Pennoyer gets blonder ever year.
Some day I'll have to give you my two cents worth about the time the two Pennys met. But that's another story.
Sgt. Lucy has a silver muzzle now. She's retired and sleeps just about all day long in Deputy Joe's back yard. She'll be chasing those rabbits around the stars soon.
Doc and Brad and Joe--well, we've all been able to keep a secret. Also used it to our advantage sometimes. I'm certainly doing well these days.
I smoke much better cigars now. No more Dixie Maids. I'm smoking Macanudos.
Doesn't matter though, how good they are--my dark-haired pretty Penny won't let me smoke them whenever I visit her.
Yep, I'm doing a lot better. I've won the top award from the Texas Press Association for news reporting five years in a row.
You'd be amazed how helpful just a whiff of a Truth spell is when you interview someone.